Me, me, me

I’ve been back from Malta for like three days, but its really only been about 12 minutes when you take out the waking hours that I’ve been entrenched in frenzied catch-up work. Apart from one indulgent shower and a run to the market in the next village because all I had to eat was raw garlic, bread crusts and a giant Toblerone I bought in duty-free, I have been working virtually non-stop since the moment I got off the train Sunday afternoon, two hours later than planned (keep reading).

If you’re just joining us, I’m kind of a dangerous fanatic when it comes to work. I have to be. I don’t say it often enough, but at the end of most days this job is effing awesome, however little details like having to work seven days a week most of the time just to stay financially afloat can make me a little cranky. Well, I just went a full week without doing a minute of work for the first time in like two years and even though I’m not under any deadline pressure just yet, as soon as my plane from Malta landed in Italy I zapped into full freak out mode.

Italian Immigration Guy: “Welcome to Italy”

Me: “Sweet Jesus, seven days without working?? Aiiigg!!! What was I thinking?? I’m gonna have to write 4,000 words a day for the next two weeks to make up for it or I’ll be back working at the Federal Reserve by August! Run, run!!!”

OK, I’m gonna come clean. Before I left for Malta I laid out an absurdly meticulous timeline, weighing the amount of work I’d done in the previous month, the work I had left to do, setting a generous schedule for the time remaining and calculating the gallons of coffee and wine that would be required keep me at optimum productivity and creativity levels. This allowed me to depart for Malta confident that I wasn’t professionally screwing myself, so I’ll probably be fine (especially if the dreams where I do productive editing start again), but I’ve got this paranoid, drill sergeant work ethic and so the mini-heart attacks started as soon as I left Pisa airport. These intensified during the ensuing, quintessentially Italian train station clusterfuck I fell victim to.

Anyone planning to buy a ticket in Pisa’s train station should budget about an hour and one nervous breakdown for the undertaking, because only one out of the four auto-ticket machine is in full working order. I arrived at the station 23 minutes before my train and proceeded to miss that train as I waited in line for one machine after the other, only to be met with a new, sadistic form of payment failure.

The first machine waited until I’d punched the 15 buttons necessary to order my ticket to tell me that it wasn’t accepting cash that day. The next machine accepted cash, but only coins, and I didn’t happen to have 20.50 euros in coins on me. The credit card reader didn’t work either (natch). The next machine was occupied for ten minutes as two French tourists repeatedly discovered that it didn’t accept any form of payment.

At this point I looked around, noticing for the first time the one machine with about 15 Italians queued up behind it and I realized they already knew what the rest of us were slowly and pitifully learning: only one machine in that bloody train station was going to cough up a ticket in our lifetimes. I suddenly flashed on the afternoon of November 30th, 2006, the last time I was at this God forsaken station, and recalled how I went through virtually the same maddening exercise. So clearly there’s some sort of devious, organized effort to keep tourists stuck in Pisa, probably perpetrated by local hoteliers who are pissed off that most people just stop there for a day trip.

With a mere four minutes before my train departed, I queued up in a mild panic and proceeded to helplessly watch one Italian after another, casually chatting on their cell phones, taking an eternity at the secondary task of ordering a ticket, oblivious to the fact that a dozen people were waiting behind them. My train pulled away just as I was getting my turn, sparking a surge of frustration and rage, where I came dangerously close to screaming “fucking Italy!!!!” at the top of my lungs.

I was home.

But enough of fucking Italy stories. I’ve got two bits of self-promotion to plug. Some of you old school online budget travel planners may remember one of the internet’s first and veritable budget travel web sites, BUG. They’ve just celebrated their 10 year anniversary online. Apart from being a excellent budget travel resource, their primary niche was their hostel booking application. Unlike most hostel booking sites, rather than having all the hostel profile information populated by the hostels themselves, hostels had been personally visited and rated by a BUG reviewer. They were also the first to offer interactive hostel reviews.

The web site went through a slow patch, but they’ve just completed a major software upgrade for their hostel booking service and that shiny new software smell is palpable. They’ve currently got BUG and traveler hostel reviews up for every hostel in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, half of Asia and most of Europe. They’re sending out a new wave of reviewers this summer to start the task of featuring independent, updated reviews for every hostel in the world. Is that sick or what?

How is this great for me? Well, they’ve also re-started their monthly budget travel email newsletter. Apart from budget travel news, these newsletters will include a short feature by none other than Leif “Bringing the Crazy Back to Tuscany” Pettersen. Due to both myself and the BUG people being desperately overworked at the moment, the first few newsletters are only going include some of my hastily edited existing material, but that will change as things settle down and I’ll eventually be composing original material for each newsletter. The first newsletter is already out and, though it might have been an elaborate typo, they say I “may be the next Bill Bryson”. Those sweet-talking so-and-sos…

In other words, I’m a columnist. Hi, I’m Leif Pettersen, I’m a columnist. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying that.

The other bit of recent excitement is that Lonely Planet’s “Romania and Moldova 4” is finally for sale online and should be in stores any minute, if it isn’t already. I sacrificed a fair portion of my sanity while researching and writing this book (which is all dutifully recorded in this blog, just start reading from February 2006 forward), so I’m more than a little happy to finally see the final product. Well, I haven’t exactly seen the final product. Part of being a homeless travel writer is that all the magazines and books you contribute to have to be sent to your parent’s house in Minneapolis and you only get to physically handle the fruits of your labor during your annual visits home. So if someone would be so kind as to stop at their local bookstore and tell me how awesome it is to see the fruits of my labor, I’d appreciate it.

By the way, Malta was great. Well, it was nice. OK, it didn’t suck. More next week.